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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Book Review: Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause by Ty Seidule

Ty Seidule was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia where his only goal in life was to grow up to be a good Virginia gentleman, like his hero, Robert E. Lee. After graduating from a segregation academy (a private school founded with the explicit purpose of letting white children continue to go to an unsegregated school), he went on to Washington & Lee University and then joined the army. When he joined the faculty of West Point, he was temporarily housed in Lee Barracks on Lee Drive. 

Recently he quit the military so he can speak his mind. This history professor wants to explain to everyone about the three causes of the Civil War:
slavery, slavery, and slavery.

He has gone back to the sources, he has done the research. He had looked into the naming of every one of these army bases that are named after Confederates. None of them were done to honor the Civil War. All of them were done to slow the progress of human rights and to intimidate African-Americans. He has the paperwork. He can prove it. And in that paperwork, he also disproves the notion that Lee joined the Confederacy solely because he felt it his duty as a Virginian to defend his state. That's bunk. And Lee said so in letters to his family. He joined because of slavery. (Also there were other Southern colonels at West Point when the Civil War broke out and he's the only one who defected to the traitors.)

In his quest to tell this story, Col. Seidule goes back and shows how he was taught to be a racist by his elders and his school system (he even finds the Virginia state history books he was taught from in school). And he explains how we have to get past these issues to move forward in this country. 

If you have someone in your life who might hear this message better from an older, white, military man, this is the most perfect book. But I, who thought myself pretty well-educated in this area, had my eyes opened in a couple of ways. For example, I am striving to change from saying "plantation" and instead calling them what they are: enslaved labor farms. I also never before realized that the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s... was exactly 100 years after the Civil War. Coincidence? 

This read was utterly fascinating and I learned a lot. You will too. 

This book is published by St. Martin's Press, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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